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The Ending Of Netflix's The Mother Explained

Contains spoilers for "The Mother."

Studios often plan their release calendars around seasons and holidays. Oscar bait usually comes out closer to the end of the year. Blockbusters hit theaters over the summers. Rom-coms get slotted in around Valentine's Day. Horror owns Halloween. And family films and fantasy epics do well over Thanksgiving and Christmas. But what about Mother's Day? Netflix is hoping that moms around the globe will be in the mood to watch something on-topic this year, but perhaps not in the genre one would expect on an occasion most often celebrated with flowers and brunches. 

In that way, "The Mother" — streaming on Netflix as of May 12 — is both counter-programming and not. Starring Jennifer Lopez in the title role (the audience never learns the protagonist's name), the film is an R-rated, high kill count, throwback action thriller in the vein of Liam Neeson's 2007 hit "Taken," with the gender of the parent switched. There are moments of intense violence and plot points so troubling, characters don't even speak them aloud to each other. It's decidedly dark and deadly serious compared to other Mother's Day viewing options, but it's also undeniably about motherhood, even if Lopez's Mother isn't exactly a character the average mom can relate to. 

Though the point here is to give Lopez nearly two hours to squint behind the barrel of a gun, punch bad guys with barbed wire-wrapped fists, and jump on and off of motorcycles, the film revolves around the idea of what it means to bring a child into the world and do right by them, which is the existential question that every mother faces. 

What you need to remember about the plot of The Mother

In a prologue, we see that the Mother is a pregnant FBI informant. She warns the agents in her safe house, including William Cruise (Omari Hardwick), that something bad's about to go down. After it does, she's forced to sign over her newborn daughter (whom she nearly lost in a knife attack) to protective custody and relocate to remote Alaska. 12 years later, a criminal syndicate has IDed the girl, named Zoe by her adoptive parents (Lucy Paez), and wants revenge. Lopez's character gets back into action with Cruise as her sidekick to save the life of the child she only knows from pictures. 

In flashbacks, we learn the Mother met the film's two antagonists — Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes) and Hector Álvarez (Gael García Bernal) — while she was stationed in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. Lovell, her sniper trainer, recruited her into arms dealing and she caught Álvarez skimming guns. She used romantic relationships with both men to set up mutually beneficial business interests. But when she discovered that Lovell and Álvarez were smuggling children, too, she could no longer remain complicit in their crimes. 

In the present timeline, Álvarez's henchman kidnap Zoe and take her to his compound in Cuba. The Mother and Cruise are able to free her and kill Álvarez. Lovell, having survived the explosion 12 years earlier, stages a kidnapping attempt of his own shortly thereafter. He crashes his SUV into Cruise and Zoe's SUV, and the Mother, on motorcycle, barely escapes with Zoe to her hideout in Alaska.

What happens at the end of The Mother?

The Mother uses a burner phone that Cruise had given her to call Zoe's adoptive mother and let her know she's okay. She's unwilling to bring her back, however, until she can be sure there's no longer a threat to her life, and she's determined to make sure Zoe can defend herself. The pair spends months in isolation together, during which time the Mother teaches Zoe how to drive, hunt, and fight. At first, Zoe is frightened, angry, miserable, and desperate to get home. She also strongly suspects that the Mother is, indeed, her mother, and resents her for not telling the truth. But it quickly becomes apparent that she shares her mother's aptitude for survival. 

When Zoe is bitten by a wild wolf cub, the Mother takes her to the local hospital for stitches. Zoe, not knowing any better, gives her real name, which goes into the computer system. The Mother knows this has blown their cover, and Lovell will soon track them to Alaska. Planning to take him and his snow camo-clad men on alone, she tries to give Zoe to her contact, Jons (Paul Raci), so that they can flee south. But Zoe uses the skills her mother taught her to drive back and join the fight. 

Lovell sets his sights, literally, on Zoe's forehead, so the Mother gives him the final face-to-face showdown he wants. Zoe could pull the trigger and kill them both. Instead, she fires a blank to cause confusion. The Mother falls downhill, hitting a rock, and is seriously injured. Lovell makes off with Zoe, but her mother summons her strength and focus to take one last shot at Lovell's head. 

What does the ending mean?

With both Lovell and Álvarez dead, the risk to Zoe's life has diminished enough that she can return home to her family. The Mother had mentioned counseling and support services, so presumably Zoe is being treated for all the trauma she's experienced as of late. Through the lens of the Mother's binoculars, we see that a well adjusted enough Zoe has resumed her normal activities. She's been happily reunited with her legal guardians, is back to attending school, and is skateboarding down a sidewalk as she was when the Mother first laid eyes on her.

But Zoe, aware that her birth mom is watching her this time, mimics shooting a sniper rifle in her direction. "You got me," the Mother whispers, meaning not only that her daughter is an excellent shot, but that she's finally able to express love for the child she had to surrender more than 12 years ago. During conversations with Zoe's adoptive mom, we hear that the conditions of that adoption were that her birth mother would never return nor have any contact (though we do know she made Cruise promise her to send a picture every year on her birthday and alert her to any trouble). 

Lopez's character writes Zoe a letter before giving her to Jons. In that letter, she finally confesses to being her mom and says that having her even though she couldn't keep her was the one good thing she's ever done. That the Mother was also able to leave Alaska and that she's wearing a handmade beaded bracelet that says "MOM" indicate that she will, to some extent, remain a part of Zoe's life from now on. 

Who was Zoe's father?

An open question throughout "The Mother" is, who is Zoe's father? Cruise wonders as much while he and the Mother are teamed up together. Her answer is that she's not Lovell's and not Álvarez's, but hers. Biologically, that's impossible, but symbolically, that's how the Mother feels about the situation. Of course, there's also the possibility that Zoe is the child of neither Lovell nor Álvarez but some other man, though that's less likely given the love triangle plot. 

Álvarez asks the Mother if Zoe is his child when the latter breaks into his candlelit throne room to confront him. It's clear from the extremely charged dialogue between them that Álvarez and the Mother had a sexual relationship, if not a particularly healthy or equal one. But the Mother does make a joke at Álvarez's expense about his supposed sexual dysfunction before she sends his compound up in flames and slices him up the middle. The creepy kingpin could've been Zoe's dad, but if true, this piece of information is a point against it. 

On the other hand, Lovell seems certain that he is Zoe's father — he refers to her as "our girl." But that only makes his disregard for her life all the more upsetting. If Lovell did know the Mother's baby was his, he was willing to stab his own child to death in retaliation for the Mother's betrayal. He also threatens to shoot Zoe in the head if the Mother doesn't do what he wants. Both of the Mother's exes are murderers who've participated in the human trafficking of kids; it's an understatement to say they're unfit to be dads. Her insistence that ultimately it doesn't matter rings true.    

What do the wolves have to do with anything?

"The Mother" is, for the most part, a traditional action movie with set pieces that come rapid fire one after another. But the film pauses for about 15 minutes before its finale to let the Mother and Zoe get to know each other, and much of that stretch has to do with the laws of nature. 

We first see the white wolf eating from an elk carcass while the Mother comes to collect her kill. They stare each other down but part without drama. We see the wolves again when Zoe plays with the cubs as if they're puppies. The Mother has to use a salt shell to keep the white wolf from attacking Zoe. Later, Zoe notices that the white wolf has been wounded. She wants to intervene, but the Mother stops her, believing that nature must take its course. Zoe can't help herself, and sneaks meat out to what she assumes to be defenseless cubs, who she fears will die without being taught to hunt for themselves. 

The wolves only factor into the plot incidentally. Zoe learns to use blanks from her first run-in, and sustains the bite which eventually leads Lovell to her in the second. Their inclusion in the story is largely symbolic. The Mother is teaching her own daughter how to survive, much like the white wolf. And when the Mother is lying wounded, having lost Zoe to Lovell, she sees the white wolf again, having miraculously recovered for her offspring. The wolves represent the innate and primal drive that even human mothers have to rear and protect their children.  

Who lives and who dies?

Not many characters make it out of "The Mother" alive. The film opens with a shoot out in which, we're later told, seven FBI agents are lost. Cruise is nearly one of them, having taken a shot to the abdomen through a window, but the Mother glues his wound together to stop the bleeding. The Mother snipes several of Álvarez's guys during Zoe's kidnapping, then backs a truck into one of them. Álvarez's right hand man, the Tarantula, gets away at first (and Cruise is stabbed in the back), But the Mother later tortures him with barbed wire and alcohol to get him to fess up to Álvarez's whereabouts, then kills him by knocking him onto the floor, where his head is impaled by a broken bottle. 

She and Cruise shoot down about a dozen more of Álvarez's men at his compound. After Álvarez taunts her, she turns the tables by turning her knife on him. Cruise's luck finally runs out when Lovell puts a gun to his head and the Mother has no way to stop him from shooting. During the last act, Lovell's thugs go down one by one, either by the Mother's hand or by driving over mines she and Zoe set in the snow. Last but not least, Lovell appears to have gotten away with Zoe, but the Mother's aim is true, and his van comes to a stop with his lifeless body inside. 

Besides the Mother and Zoe, her secret ex-military friend, Jons, survives. So do Zoe's adoptive parents. Her mother had been shot in the shoulder during the incident at the park. The white wolf and her cubs appear to have made it through the movie, too.  

What has the cast and crew said about The Mother?

As we've touched upon, "The Mother" isn't a typical movie about moms and daughters, but it is a more female-centric movie than is usual for Hollywood, especially in the action genre. Besides the fact that it stars Jennifer Lopez and Lucy Paez in the lead roles, the film was also co-written by women (Misha Green, Andrea Berloff, and Peter Craig share screenplay credit), and directed by a woman, Niki Caro. Caro knows something about female-led pictures. She made a name for herself with 2002's "Whale Rider" starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, and helmed the Charlize Theron vehicle "North Country" and Disney's live-action remake of "Mulan." 

Caro told ComingSoon.net that she was drawn to the project because she and Lopez are both mothers of teenage children themselves and because Lopez is such a talented physical and dramatic performer. Her co-star, Joseph Fiennes, agrees. He praised her work ethic and knowledge of fight choreography, as well as her warm spirit as a scene partner. 

Lopez describes the "The Mother" as "emotional and action-packed," and explains that it's not just about a mother's instinct to protect her children. "There's an underlying theme of what it is to be a mother and what the idea of the perfect mom is and how that really doesn't exist," she told Reuters. Her on-screen daughter bonded with her real-life husband, Ben Affleck, on set. Paez told Entertainment Tonight that he complimented her as she was shooting the difficult climactic scenes in the snow, and Lopez added that Paez and Affleck spoke in Spanish to each other. 

Will there be a sequel?

It's hard to know whether movies like "The Mother" that go straight to streaming are a hit with audiences. Services like Netflix only release data when it suits them. It's also too early to tell whether "The Mother" has caught on with home viewers over the Mother's Day weekend, or if it'll have lasting appeal on the platform. But with Lopez's star power and the popularity of movies like "John Wick," with which "The Mother" shares some creative DNA, it wouldn't be a surprise if the film made an impact with Netflix subscribers, despite mixed to lackluster critical feedback. The general public has had more positive things to say, which could mean that a sequel could be on the way. 

If there is a "The Mother 2," Lopez and Paez are on board, and they're already brimming with ideas. "I think it would be 'The Daughter,'" Lopez told Variety. "The sequel will definitely be 'The Daughter,'" Paez added, seconding the title. "The Mother" doesn't conclude with a cliffhanger that would necessitate a future installment, but it does end on a slightly ambiguous note. We don't know what comes next for either of the main characters, though — conveniently — we do know that Zoe is ready to kick butt just like her mom after months of intense training in the frozen wilderness. Should the military or the FBI need help taking on any more international networks of nefarious baddies, Lopez and Paez are ready.